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April 20, 2010

Top Ten 'Am I Missing Something?' Foods

TruffleAt the risk of looking like a rube, I'll admit it: I don’t get why truffles are such a big whoop.

I’d like to think it’s a case of truffle tastes, portobello budget. I’ve hardly had the chance to sample the fungal luxury, and when I have, it’s been in the form of a skimpily drizzled truffle oil.

But the problem may be a genetic quirk known as “specific anosmia.”

Some people lack the ability to smell certain odors. Quite a few cannot detect androstenone, the pheromone in truffles that makes epicures swoon like randy pigs.

That’s according to Charles J. Wysocki, a behavioral neuroscientist at Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center.

“When a male pig encounters a female, if she’s in heat and he breathes into her nose and she smells this substance, she goes into mating posture,” Wysocki told me in an interview. “Farmers have made use of this, and you can go into any Agway shop and buy some [pheromonal] Boarmate in a can.”

The pheromone works more reliably on porcine subjects than human ones. Which is why not every gourmand assumes mating posture when presented with a plate of truffle risotto.

“Forty to 50 percent get absolutely nothing [from sniffing truffles],” Wysocki said. “Thirty-five percent smell it, and smell it as stale urine or sweat. Fifteen percent can detect … woody or floral [notes].”

I interviewed Wysocki months and months ago for a story on cilantro (more on that later). His comments came to mind this week as I reported news that Wegmans was selling black truffles for $400 a pound.

Which brings me to this week’s list. Top Ten 'Am I Missing Something?' Foods:

No. 1: Truffles

No. 2: Cilantro

In the great love-it-or-hate-it cilantro divide, I'm with the herb's lovers. But cilantro is one of those foods that some people just don't get. Wysocki has theorized that specific anosmia is the reason that some insist cilantro tastes like soap, while the rest of us think they're nuts. He believes cilantro haters cannot detect the herb’s pleasing, aromatic notes, but do pick up on a soapy-smelling component that’s normally masked by the good stuff.

No. 3: Milk chocolate

Why ruin the world's most perfect food -- dark chocolate -- with the addition of milk?

No. 4: White chocolate

I've had what is said to be the good stuff. I still find it sickeningly sweet.

No. 5: Sea urchin sushi

It’s been 20 years since I’ve tried it, but I still recall thinking it tasted like Magic Markers.

No. 6: Blue cheese

Tasty mold to some, ammonia on a cracker to others.

No. 7: Cuy

I don't care if it "tastes just like guinea pig."

No. 8: Fish

I enjoy fish, but my husband can't believe anything that smells like that could taste good.

No. 9: Any food ordered through a speaker

I know most of America disagrees with me on this one. I'll concede two exceptions: Atwater's (which has a drive-thru in Towson) and Einstein Bros. Bagels.

No. 10: Chinese-farmed anything

All-you-can-eat shrimp scarfers will disagree, but once I read about it, I lost my appetite.


Do truffles taste as good as they look? That's what I'm afraid of. Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum
Posted by Laura Vozzella at 5:31 AM | | Comments (41)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays
        

Comments

I happen to like truffles, despite very limited exposure, but this photo reminds me of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a scientist who studies coprolites. The headline was something like "He's number one in number two."

I do taste cilantro as soapy, but have learned to appreciate it. I totally agree with you on 3, 7, 9 and 10!

I used to hate cilantro now I love it. I don't know what happened except maybe I got older and my tastebuds that sensed "soap" died!

Can't think if I've ever had Chinese farmed anything and I'd be a liar if I didn't say that once or twice a year I need some Taco Bell or McFries.

Sadly, if you've bought fish at a supermarket without "Wild Caught" or "Farmed in the USA" you have. I stopped eating fish that was unlabeled or marked farmed in China as well.
I used to LOVE McDonalds... Egg mcmuffins for breakfast very rarely when i was a kid, and maybe a big mac (yeah, i was that scary big 8 year old that could finish an entire meal) Out of nostalgia i had to have one a few weeks ago. It didn't go too well.
I don't understand pig feet or fatback as a concept. My grandmother would get them from the grocery every once in a while, and it gave me the willies.

Sorry, every now and then I have to breakdown and get a Big Mac....

Sorry, every now and then I have to breakdown and get a Big Mac....

Lobster.
There, I said it.
Lobster.

It costs a dumptruck load of money, it's chewy and only tastes like the butter you dip it in. Crabs I get. Lobster, not so much.

Sam, I totally agree with you on the lobster. I don't really get the appeal. I also agree with Laura on the blue cheese. But I have to add the creamy goat cheeses as well. I think they taste like a goat smells.

McD's doesn't taste the way it does in my mind. It has the side "benefit " of making me physically ill. I love the smell of it, though. That's what's gotten me EVERY freaking time.

black truffles with scrambled eggs - so, so good...black truffles with risotto - another wonderful pairing.

I personally prefer truffles when heated or slighted cooked - never got the raw shaving on meat thing.

Truffle oil doesn't count btw - and you want to try fresh truffles versus the ones that come in the jar that I've seen at Eddie's from time to time.

ditto Sam on lobster.

Crab cakes. Meatloaf of the sea.

Why get lobster when you can get the Maryland blue swimming crab. Speaking of crabs, I don't get crab cakes. Crabs are fine the way they are, why make meatloaf out of them?

Well played Owl Meat, well played indeed.

Wow, Tony. Our minds are in synch today. We should dress alike too. I'm gonna wear my pink Izod with the collar popped, green golf pants, and my purple Crocs. And my urban sombrero

Leann, I totally agree with you on goat cheese. My brother, who will eat almost anything, and I both dislike goat cheese. And, our standard response is also that it tastes like goats smell. We think its genetic and goes with the theory that certain people detect (or not) certain flavors. But I do love cilantro.

1 - i don't like fungus anyway, so truffles are yet another one i won't eat.
2 - i don't hate it. i don't grow it, but it's not something i avoid.
3 - agreed.
4 - that's not even chocolate!
5 - i've heard it's grainy. that's enough to keep me away.
6 - agreed.
7 - i don't like rabbit. why would cuy be any better?
8 - both the SO and i like fish. thankfully.
9 - i don't do fast food unless i'm already sick, and even then i'll walk my tush in the store to order.
10 - agreed. i'd like to extend that to most products from China.

Sam, re: lobster, I would suggest you try some fresh in Maine or right off the plane from Maine, as I have. Nothing tops an exquisitely fresh lobster, but they seemingly age and get "unfresh" even if kept in a tank. Presumably this is like the difference between "true" fresh crab cakes versus the frozen ones from the grocery store freezer section.

I suggest going to Gritty's Brew Pub in Freeport, Maine and getting a lobster roll with their IPA.

I've had fresh lobster in Maine. I still am not a fan. I love the meatloaf of the sea comment. ha!

I've said it before, but I'll reiterate it.

Ketchup.

Yeah, sorry about that. I know I'm a frickin mutant. There are close relatives that I happen to like -- cocktail sauce, barbecue sauce, marinara sauce. But ketchup? Pass.

Add to that, I'm quite particular about all manner of condiments. Smooth yellow mustard? Nope. Stone ground mustard? Yup.

Jar mayonnaise? Pass. A freshly made mayo? Sure, I'lll give it a whirl.

It wigs people out when I take my hot dogs naked.

My friend and I have had the cilantro debate many times..she hates it, I love everything about it. But at the same time I can't stand rosemary - who wants pine needles or their flavor in food? I just don't get it, my husband thinks I'm nuts and the only person in the world that can't stand rosemary.


Am a bit surprised not to see caviar on this list (beluga, osetra, sevruga, you name it). I can't say that I hate it, but at $50 or $60 an ounce (give or take), I just don't get the appeal.

I don't feel quite as strongly about truffles, which I think are pretty delicious. Also, in my (very limited) experience, a little bit goes a long way, so you don't have to break the bank to see what they're like (the times I've had it, the black truffle portion of the dish I was served consisted of just a few shavings).

Not to scold the author about this, but if you haven't actually tried them (and in my humble opinion, truffle infused olive oil really doeesn't count), perhaps they shouldn't be on your list. Just my two cents...


Am a bit surprised not to see caviar on this list (beluga, osetra, sevruga, you name it). I can't say that I hate it, but at $50 or $60 an ounce (give or take), I just don't get the appeal.

I don't feel quite as strongly about truffles, which I think are pretty delicious. Also, in my (very limited) experience, a little bit goes a long way, so you don't have to break the bank to see what they're like (the times I've had it, the black truffle portion of the dish I was served consisted of just a few shavings).

Not to scold the author about this, but if you haven't actually tried them (and in my humble opinion, truffle infused olive oil really doeesn't count), perhaps they shouldn't be on your list. Just my two cents...

If you think a crab cake is 'meatloaf of the sea,' you have been betrayed by crappy restaurants coasting on the cache of the 'traditional maryland crab cake.' I suggest you buy a pound of jumbo lump and pan-fry a few filler free wonders for yourself.

(p.s. Avoid the sauces or other gimmicky accoutrement with the crab cakes. If you feel that the crab requires more than a sprinkling of paprika, wait until July or August when local waterman are catching the best crabs of the season.)

EEL, as much as I loved Gritty McDuff's and their beer, I'll recommend instead Red's lobster rolls up in Wiscasset, which were a treat for me while working on the nearby narrow-gauge railway one fall......

The Traditionalist:
You are so right, a well made crab cake is a thing of beauty. It doesn't need a sauce, all it needs is two saltines, and a cold beer.

A close second is a large soft crab, lightly dusted with flour, salt and pepper, pan fired in butter for two or three minutes on each side, served between two slices of bread with maybe a bit of mayo and a slice of a red, ripe eastern shore tomato.

It's getting harder and harder to find a properly fried soft crab. It seems everyone wants to put them in a batter and deep fry them, or serve them swimming in sauce. In New Jersey they love to slather them in garlic.

OK I guess I've gone off topic enough for one day.

My uncle once spent 20 minutes telling us how very much he hated cilantro while we were sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Silver Spring. Now, I order something with cilantro whenever I am eating in a restaurant with him ;)

I just clicked on the link to the "Chinese-farmed anything" in #10. I did a double take when I saw the name of the county in China where the fish farms are located. I had to verify that it was indeed the New York Times and not The Onion.

I certainly will not be eating any of those Fuqing fish!

1. I can't stand white chocolate- milk chocolate will do if there's no dark but I need at least twice as much.
2. I tried sea urchin and it was like nothing. I'm not big on roe though. It's a texture thing- don't like raw oysters either.
3. I don't eat rodents- so Cuy is out, as well as rabbit, etc.
4. I also don't eat organs. Liver, kidneys, hearts- or anything of them like pate. Texture + mental pictures= no way.
5. I love fast food but I avoid it as much as possible.
6. I am pretty much allergic to anything that's spicy-hot so I don't get that whole deal.
7. A good BROILED minimally flavored crabcake is a thing of beauty but a soft crab is too primal for me. Same with lobster. I don't like ripping apart my food in its natural form. If I hadn't grown up eating crabs I'd probably hate that too.
8. I LOATHE Mayonnaise. ABHOR HATE DETEST. It's big globs of fat.

*I do LOVE blue cheese, the stinkier the better.
*Truffles, cilantro- yes please.
*I love fish but if it smells bad something is wrong anyway!

8. I LOATHE Mayonnaise. ABHOR HATE DETEST. It's big globs of fat.
*I do LOVE blue cheese, the stinkier the better.

Marry me!

I agree with Sam on the lobster thing.

And cilantro, I don't like it either, it has ruined many a good salsa for me.

But I love mayo, the canola mayo that Hellmans makes is currently my mayo of choice. I have a jar of Baconnaise in the fridge too, but its not all its cranked up to be, bacon flavor and all.

Hate Mayonnaise? What's wrong with you people.

Now, I think all right thinking people (not political) can agree the Miracle Whip is the worst condiment ever. Yes, worse than ketchup.

I've never had Vegemite, but I have heard stories, so maybe there could be something worse than Miracle Whip. However, I'm willing to give Vegemite the benefit of the doubt.

RoCK never met my grandfather. He used to make the VERY best sandwiches like this:

Challah, with thick slices of Jewish salami, spread with a thin coat of Miracle Whip. The tanginess of the Miracle Whip complemented the fattiness of the salami and the rich but dullish challah.

Sorry, RoCK, I love my Miracle Whip. I also like mayonnaise. They are two different animals, each with their own place. Alas, I am one of those for whom cilantro is as appetizing as Ivory or Camay.
Strange Captcha: traumata well-known

How do you mayonnaise haters make horseradish sauce?

Duck Fat Fries.

RoCK, I can agree that Miracle Whip is the worst condiment ever. In my house, Hellman's rules.

And, Hal. Exactly. Horseradish and mayo, perfect for rare roastbeef everytime!

The real attraction to lobster is that it is supposed to be so good, it's cachet. It was once considered garbage food. Monkey see, monkey do.

$400 a pound for truffles is a steal. I hope they're not sold out by the time I get there.

What is wrong with you people? Horseradish good. No need to ruin it with your disgusting glops of revolting fat goo. Horseradish good. Good day sirs.. I SAID good day.

Stupid sign. Nobody buys a pound of truffles anymore than they buy a pound of saffron.

88¢ a gram.

Good day sirs.

Horseradish good. No need to ruin it with your disgusting glops of revolting fat goo.

Exactly! Tuna salad- use lemon & olive oil.

And roast beef, corned beef and pastrami should come with mustard, as this Irish girl well knows.

I will only accept mayo in minimal (untraceable) amounts in dips.
NO TARTAR SAUCE THANK YOU.

Sinus awesome cleaner: good Passover style horseradish, sriaracha ( rooster) sauce, and a slap of wasabi.
Miracle Whip is for getting off dry skin and deep conditioning one's hair. ( look at the original "Helpful Hints from Heloise" if you don't believe me) Hellman's mayo, Scot Tp and and Folger's coffee are the edge past one may not skimp; everyone(thing) else is up for negotiation

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.
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